The Toronto Raptors closed their five-game homestand on Friday with a thrilling win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Kawhi Leonard led the way with a game-high 38 points, but it took a team effort to take down the hottest team in the Western Conference, with Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol both having big games for the Raptors.
With that in mind, here are four takeaways from a thriller between the Raptors and Blazers...
The centre rotation
Marc Gasol's second game as a starter went much better than the first.
In 32 minutes of action, Gasol came close to his first triple-double as a member of the Raptors with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was efficient both as a scorer and playmaker, shooting 9-for-13 from the field and committing only two turnovers.
The Raptors outscored the Blazers by 23 points when he was on the court, giving Gasol the highest +/- of the game.
Lowry on playing with Gasol: "Just give him the ball and I just make the cut. That's how good he is...To be honest with you, it's kind of easy."- Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 2, 2019
Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, struggled off the bench. He scored two points on 0-for-5 shooting in 15 minutes and the Raptors were outscored by 18 points with him on the court, giving him the worst +/- of the game.
Gasol might be too good to come off the bench, but Ibaka's skill set makes him a better fit as a starter than a reserve on this team. For that reason, it's going to be fascinating to see how Nick Nurse manages the two down the final stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs.
The Blazers backcourt
With the Raptors focused on containing Damian Lillard, it was CJ McCollum who stepped up for the Blazers.
McCollum led the way through the first three quarters with 31 points on only 15 shot attempts. He went 7-for-9 from the 3-point line, tying a career-high in makes from the perimeter.
McCollum cooled off in the fourth quarter, but Lillard then took over down the stretch by scoring 13 of his 24 points in the final frame. Lillard hit a huge 3-pointer with 1:12 to go to give the Blazers a 113-110 lead and then drained three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt a minute later to tie the game at 117.
The duo helped the Blazers overcome a 16-point deficit in the second half.
Unfortunately for Lillard and McCollum, it was Kawhi Leonard who had the last laugh.
Leonard was spectacular once again for the Raptors.
The three-time All-Star was at his best in the fourth quarter, when he was responsible for more than half of Toronto's scoring. He scored the final four points of the game for the Raptors, including a pull-up in the closing seconds to give them the 119-117 win.
KAWHI NOT? pic.twitter.com/3GuOEl1b3K- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 2, 2019
According to Basketball-Reference, it's Leonard's seventh game-winner of his career and his second as a member of the Raptors, the first coming against the Brooklyn Nets last month.
Leonard finished with a game-high 38 points on 14-for-22 shooting from the field, 2-for-4 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He also had five assists, three rebounds and three steals.
In other words, Leonard did a little bit of everything for the Raptors.
Another clutch win
According to TSN's Josh Lewenberg, the Raptors are now 11-4 this season in games that are decided by three points or fewer. Not only is that the most wins in the NBA, it's far superior than their 5-7 record in those situations last season.
Leonard has been Toronto's best player in crunch time, but Serge Ibaka, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry - among others - have each had their moments late in games this season.
Lowry even had a big basket in Friday's game, draining a floater over Jusuf Nurkic with 35.3 seconds remaining to help the Raptors regain the lead.
Kyle Lowry with the tear drop!#WeTheNorth 117#RipCity 114- NBA (@NBA) March 2, 2019
13.8 to go on @ESPNNBA pic.twitter.com/T09dg3JhHk
This group's ability to grind out close games is one of the many ways they're different from Raptors teams of the past.